An Evaluation of Federal Support of the Barnwell Reprocessing Plant and the Department of Energy's Spent Fuel Storage Policy

EMD-78-97: Published: Jul 20, 1978. Publicly Released: Dec 3, 1982.

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In April 1977, the President announced a new policy to minimize risks of nuclear weapons proliferation which deferred indefinitely the commercialization of technologies that reprocess or depend on the recycle of plutonium. To carry out the policy, the President proposed that neither federal funding nor support should be given to complete a large commerical reprocessing facility being constructed at Barnwell, South Carolina. Later in 1977, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that the federal government would begin accepting and taking title from utilities to spent nuclear fuel that previously was to be reprocessed.

At Barnwell, spent fuel is separated into uranium and plutonium. The administration finds this process unacceptable and has taken initiatives to study, along with other countries, alternative fuel cycles. Allied-General Nuclear Services, Inc. has invested about $250 million in the Barnwell complex with the encouragement of the former Atomic Energy Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Congress has recently funded research activities at Barnwell relating to spent fuel handling and storage, security and safeguards, and alternative fuel cycles. The administration believes this work duplicates other research efforts and should not be continued. GAO believes that Congress should continue to fund short-term research studies at Barnwell until the completion of the international study on alternative fuel cycle technologies. Interim storage of spent fuel has become a part of the nuclear fuel cycle. It would be premature for DOE to build a new government-financed spent fuel storage facility before considering other alternatives.

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